Monday, October 05, 2009

Locke’s Entanglements Finally Get Some Scrutiny ... (UPDATED To Note $$ from Dynamo Owners)

One of the unexplored issues of the Houston’s mayoral race––probably the great publicly unexplored issue, but that’s just our subjective and possibly unschooled opinion––is Gene Locke’s partnership in a wide-tentacled law firm that has had a close and highly lucrative relationship with many of the large public taxing authorities of Harris County, including the city of Houston. We’ve been around for a while and we can’t remember anyone with those sort of very stark entanglements previously standing for mayor without getting a serious scrub-down by the media. Come to think of it, we can’t remember anyone with those sort of very stark entanglements previously standing for mayor, period. The general lack of interest in the subject by the media has been puzzling, but into the breach has barreled Texas Watchdog, from the emerging non-profit public-service (and therefore, unfortunately, not widely noticed by the general populace) corner of the journalism food chain, with a report exploring Locke’s partnership at Andrews Kurth and the firm’s work as legal counsel for the Houston-Harris County Sports Authority, which was charged with building the fine professional sports venues we all enjoy and now apparently does some other stuff we’re not quite clear on. Texas Watchdog raises some solidly documented questions about Locke’s continued relationship with the Sports Authority, where he is said to have stepped down as general counsel when he announced his candidacy in April. The report does not mention that since declaring his candidacy Locke has made a rather forthright commitment to seeing a new stadium is built to accommodate the wealthy California-based owners of the Houston Dynamo, a project that presumably would fall under the purview of the Sports Authority, thus providing that entity with a pretext for its continued existence while bringing additional business to Andrews Kurth. (To be fair, odds are the soccer stadium is going to be built whoever gets elected mayor. Still ... )

In a follow-up blog posting, Texas Watchdog’s Steve Miller quoted what he described as Locke’s “boilerplate response” to questions the Web publication submitted for its story of last week:
When I am mayor every decision I make will be based solely on what is best for Houstonians. I am proud of the broad coalition of support I enjoy in this race, but when I am elected my only debt will be to the city of Houston.
Was that the entirety of his response? Not to be gratuitously crude, but that's some weak-ass shit, as the kids say.

Miller goes on to add
The city has some formidable power with regard to the authority, in that it appoints board members that shape its direction — which, in turn, affects taxpayers when a situation such as the possible use of public money to cover a bond-related shortfall arises. The story is a blue-skyer that we feel should be out there, akin to the items anyone should take into account before making a big decision. In this case, the voters can now add this to the list of “what ifs” before they make their final choice on Nov. 3.
Hear, hear. And there’s more to it than that: What exactly is Locke’s financial arrangement with Andrews Kurth as of this moment (a question we believe that only Locke can answer, although if we're not mistaken all candidates for city office are supposed to have filed some general personal financial disclosure that covers the previous calendar year). And what would be his relationship with the firm if he’s elected mayor? (We presume he’d sever all relations, but we shouldn’t be too presumptuous.) Under a Locke mayoralty, would Andrews Kurth continue as general counsel to the Sports and Metropolitan Transit authorities, over whose boards the mayor, by virtue of his appointments, has, as Texas Watchdog put it, formidable power? Would Andrews Kurth act as counsel for city of Houston bond issues? And finally, would Locke plan to return to the firm after he’s done being mayor?

These questions should have been pitched at Locke months ago, but they’re clearly fair game now in light of the candidate’s TV ad, wherein Locke is identified as a “businessman” who “helped revitalize our downtown communities, creating thousands of god-paying jobs,” a claim accompanied by video of Metro’s rail line and Minute Maid Park. You can ignore the fact that neither of these projects is what you would call a triumph of free enterprise, or even what you would ordinarily call "business," and you can look the other way from the dubious assertion that these and other projects have created “thousands of good-paying jobs” (must be the magical “multiplier effect”). But it’s hard to get past the cold fact that Gene Locke is a lawyer, not a businessman, and what he “creates” is billable hours.

As you were, and carry on.

ADDENDUM: For what it's worth, Locke's latest campaign finance disclosure lists a $3,000 donation from California billionaire Phillip F. Anschutz of Anschutz Entertainment Group, 50-percent owner of the Dynamo and would-be promoter of the now-canceled but once-upcoming Michael Jackson tour. Locke reported receiving another $2,500 from Dynamo co-owner Brener Sports & Entertainment of Beverly Hills (the corporate PAC, we assume, although it's not listed as such) and $2,000 more from Brener-associated Oscar De La Hoya, a "self-employed boxer" from Los Angeles (and one of our favorite fighters of the past couple of decades) who has been reported to have some ownership interest in the local major-league soccer franchise. We know these are wholly meaningless and random acts of generosity and that all of these California-based parties are simply interested in enabling GOOD GOVERNMENT in Houston, Texas.


Anonymous said...

How much has Gene gotten from Tim Leiweke (spellcheck), CEO of AEG/Dynamo who boasted in Mar 08 that 'we won't be the only ones to privatize a stadium'. And Oliver Luck, the well paid sports auth honcho whose main functions are doing lunch and signing checks?

Slampo said...

Mr. Leiweke's name does not show on the reports of Mr. Locke, or the other two money candidates. Perhaps he just doesn't care about good government in Houston, Texas. Mr. Luck, as reported here some time back, gave $1,000 to Mr. Locke earlier this year and appears to have given another $1K in the most recent reporting period.

Anonymous said...

To Anon -- Oliver Luck hasn't been with the Sports Auth for more than 3 years. He is Pres of the Dynamo.